The question of identity of different religions, minorities, regions are becoming more and more complex and contentious in the contemporary world. Political, social, economic relations of mino-rities and religious groups vis-á-vis the majority is always strenuous specially if the grievances are nurtured over time and have varied hues.
Kirpal Dhillon, who was heading the Punjab police force at a very tumultuous time, traces the history of the pre- and postcolonial period, which led to the feeling of injustice amongst the Sikhs. According to him they were denied their legitimate rights by the Nehruvian regime. There was no devolution of power and postcolonial cons-titutionalism was enforced on the nation, with all powers being vested with the center, which gave no rights to the states or the people for self-determination.
The Sikhs wanted their own official language, a separate statehood, grain movement across state boundaries, political power, river water disputes settled; many such sores big and small were behind the rise of insurgency in Punjab.
The book is about the development of insurgency, the state action, growth of militancy, the emergence of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Retaliation by the government occurred in the form of military action, at the most sacred shrine of the Sikhs the Golden Temple called Operation Blue Star in June 1984. Its repercussions were the slaying of the PM Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the anti-Sikh riots in to rest of the North India especially Delhi and Haryana. The damage to the Sikh psyche and the return of a dubious peace in Punjab are dealt with. The book was written more than a decade after the return of normalcy to Punjab, by a person who was privy to the machinations and decision-making at the top. It not only narrates events between 1978 and 1993, but also raises very pertinent questions of far-reaching consequences for the nation and its people.
Dhillon writes about the dichotomy of governance especially in the police who are supposed to control aggressive behaviour, as it is a symptom of criminality and malfeasance. But police administration is supposed to be best handled by tough policemen (meaning those who keep the rule and law books on the shelf). The law-abiding officers are supposed to be too decent, refined, and compassionate to handle tough situations. A successful career is largely contingent upon shedding all commitment to human rights and democratic rule.
Another question raised is whether within the state, is militancy and extremist violence purely a law-and-order problem or should they be dealt with to some extent as political movements. The relevant question of human rights, collective human security, and meaning of national development as opposed to power of the state is also debated. Insurgent discourse renews visions of social redemption and justice against use of Article 59, which suspends even minima of right to live. The author also tries to deal with the tricky problem of history writing by protagonists. Can such writing be called objective? The writer feels that conscientious historians of insurgency, loyal to their task and craft run the risk of some officially indictable prosecution as supportive even of glorification of terrorism.
The work is an indictment of the political and electoral policies pursued by the Congress party in Punjab after 1966. As Joyce Pettigrew (1995) writes, the rise and rapid expansion of militancy rested on the Indian state for pursuing manipulative and iniquitous strategies leading to state terror. Dhillon also subscribes to similar views. The narrative and some of the events are subjective to the extent that many individuals come in for severe criticism for their alleged role in those times. The text is clearly written from a one-dimensional perspective, though it does give a deep insight into the troubled times, the aftermath and the aftershocks in Punjab. It is a poignant work which raises many questions for future historians and a must-read for those who want to understand the many histories of identities in our times.
Belu J. Maheshwari is Reader in the Department of History, Panjab University, Chandigarh.